Charlie Wilson’s War [review]


I’ve finally had enough time to sit down and write a review for the film I saw on Christmas Day. While others were eating a festival bird, I was sitting in a fairly vacant crowd, viewing the satirical comedy of the year.

Well, Mr. Nichols is continuing his career on a good note, with this well devised flick. As everyone knows, Mike Nichols is a great comedic director; judging only from the film The Graduate. Unlike The Graduate, this film is not as raunchy and much more dramatic. If you go into this film expecting a laugh out loud film, you’ll be disappointed. While his direction is wonderful in the comedic areas, I felt his direction kind of wandered off in the more tense scenes. He handled the material very well, it just looked like he was trying to make the war into a gimmick rather than a serious matter. It worked as a gimmick, but the film would’ve benefited from it being more of a serious issue. Nonetheless, he knew where he wanted the film to go, so it wasn’t all over the place. Some fine work, but it could’ve been much better.

Aaron Sorkin, a man who hasn’t written a script for a film in over a decade, returns with one of the most well written scripts of the year. He take on the acclaimed novel, is in my eyes one of the most provocative scripts of the year. Daring, funny, shocking and depressing. No other script this year has sent me into such an emotional frenzy. With this very emotional script comes sharp dialog. Not a line seemed out of a place. All the stories worked out very well and came to amazing conclusions; whether they be bittersweet or unresolved, the film had it all. If the script had been handed to someone like Jason Reitman, who can handle the satirical comedy fantastically, as well as bring in deep emotion, it would’ve been one of – if not – the best film of the year.

Onto the fantastic ensemble. From the ‘comeback’ of Roberts, ‘rebound’ of Hanks and ‘hot streaks’ of Adams and Hoffman, the entire film was well acted.

Julia Roberts in my eyes was the weakest of the cast, believe it or not. She plays “Joanne Herring“, a femme fatale in some aspects. She’s a leading lady in many charitable organizations, but is really prissy. Roberts plays the role very well. Sadly, her character is in the film for not more than fifteen minutes; giving her limited space to work with. All Roberts could do was throw on an accent and speak with an impeccable vocabulary. You’ll feel mixed about this character, thanks to the charisma brought by Julia. Sadly, in the end it won’t matter much, because you’ll feel underwhelmed by the overall impression she leaves on you.

Amy Adams is coming off of a beloved performance in Enchanted. Thinking that she had a small, unimportant role in the film, I dismissed her from my mind in this film going into it. Surprisingly, despite the little meaning her character has to the film, she gives a great performance. She was funny, adorable and showed the human side of the war. If Adams had not been in the role, I highly doubt the film would’ve benefited from the character at all. For those who are curious, she plays “Bonnie Bach“, Charlie Wilson’s “executive assistant”. Her take on the role was pitch perfect. Hilarious at times, and she even has the one heartbreaking (in a tear jerking sense) scene of the film. What does she do with it? Knocks it right out of the ball park. This is certainly Adams’ year.

Philip Seymour Hoffman plays “Gust Avrakotos“, the man the C.I.A. sent to help Charlie Wilson get funding and weapons for the Afghani mujahideen. He is the best in the film, and he actually transformed into his character. The other actors were great, but they seemed a lot like themselves in real life/other films. Well, knowing Philip Seymour Hoffman you’ve got to expect the best. He really took this real life man (now deceased) and made himself into him. I haven’t been able to obtain a video of the real man, so I’m going based on what I thought Hoffman did in the role, if Avrakotos was just a character. Philip brings hilarity to the table. In fact, without Hoffman in the role, I could not see the film being very funny at all. His presence alone gave teh film another dimension to work with, making it all the more better. His chemistry with Hanks was great, and his chemistry with Roberts in the one scene they had together was phenomenal. From serious to light hearted, this man can play all roles. Certainly an amazing way to top off a sensational year, for Mr. Hoffman.

Onto the lead, Tom Hanks, who obvious plays “Charlie Wilson“. His take on the complex man wasn’t as it should’ve been. The man was complex, was he not? Supporting the fight, but not realizing the consequences. Doing everything to please everyone, but never really caring. Hanks’ performance wasn’t as great as it could’ve been, leaving me to think that he was miscast to some extent. Sure, surface wise he was grand. Creating a quarrel here and there, playing off of his costars well, but something was missing. He had the satire down, that’s for sure. Coming from a man who’s brought so much emotion to so many roles, it makes me wonder “What happened?”, surely this man isn’t the same man who was in Philadelphia. Not to say he was bad at all. Don’t get me wrong, he was good. Just when this performance is juxtaposed to most of his other work, he seems to have flailed around a lot here. All Hanks did was bring a languid quality to an eccentric character. He started off well, but slowly his performance got weaker and weaker. Is he deserving of the Golden Globe nomination? Not really, but it wasn’t a horrible choice. Hopefully that nomination will help boost him up to his mid 90’s status. Doubtful, but we can only hope.

The technical aspects weren’t exactly a vital ingredient to the film, but some were great.

The film editing was key to the film. It kept the pace brisk, but not too brisk. It didn’t really rush anything, adding to the full effectiveness of the overall completed film. Good cuts, beautiful transitions, and to boot some really intriguing war footage spliced into reels. Very good stuff, but it could’ve been better. By this I mean the film could’ve given you more of an expose on Charlie Wilson, as well as Gust Avrakotos. If the film had been two hours long, I’m pretty sure it could’ve been better.

The art decoration and costume design were very pretty. From luxurious suites to a plain office, the art director had the traditional settings down pat. As for the costumes, they had a much wider range. From tattered, torn and dirty clothing; basically reduced to rags on little children, to divine dresses, it had a lot of good work.

The cinematography was nice. Two time nominee Stephen Goldblatt helmed the photography and did a very nice job. There wasn’t a lot to work with, but he did what best he could. Some scenes were beautiful. Most of his great stuff came in Afghanistan, where there was a lot of decay, ruin and empty space for him to work with. Good stuff, but nothing special.

The score by the composer of the year (in my opinion) James Newton Howard was beautiful. It isn’t as well done as his other three films’ scores, but it is very nice. Howard’s score in the film ranges from upbeat to dreary, allowing the compositions to pluck at your heart’s strings throughout the entire film. This being said, the compositions aren’t very original, nor do they stand out all too much. A good effort from Howard, but he’s done better.

Nominations for Charlie Wilson’s War
Best Adapted Screenplay – Aaron Sorkin (#3)

Rating : 8/10


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